Finance, HCM, and Student System Planning in the COVID-19 Era

Principal Analyst

Top of Mind: Finance, HCM, and Student System Planning in the COVID-19 Era
Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

Where does the move to cloud administrative systems fit into your strategic plan? How has the COVID-19 crisis changed your plans? Will you adopt a cloud administrative system sooner or later?

As with all industries, higher education has been experiencing a rapid rate of technological change and has responded in varying degrees. Software vendors have leveraged artificial intelligence and machine learning to provide improved student engagement. Blockchain may soon enable students’ lifelong learning transcripts and provide enhanced security for shared intellectual property. The list goes on.

Core administrative applications have been changing too. Legacy, on-premises systems are approaching their end of life and do not provide the user experience expected by students and staff. Nor do they provide efficiency and transparency with business processes or easy access to data for meaningful decision-making. Vendors have leveraged advances in cloud technology to build modern cloud-native platforms comprised of human capital management (HCM), finance, and student systems to replace on-premises legacy applications. Over the last several years, institutions have started their transitions to these systems as part of their strategic plans to provide secure, user-friendly access to efficient processes and meaningful data for decision-making. The resources were available, and the communities were ready. The time was right.

Then, in the early months of 2020, COVID-19 surfaced. In the first six months of 2020, many institutions that had been actively selecting modern cloud solutions paused in those efforts to address resource constraints caused by COVID-19. As institutions continue to address the challenges and changes caused by the pandemic, the need for modern solutions has become more compelling.

Except for the institutions that needed to redirect their resources to support COVID-19-related activities, institutions that had started their migration to modern cloud solutions were able to continue with their deployments with few delays or issues. We have seen several successful deployments over the summer months. However, many institutions that were in the selection phase, and others that were contemplating beginning an assessment, have paused those efforts. The budgetary impact of lost revenue and increased expenses have deferred uncommitted capital project funding. 

The COVID-19 crisis further revealed the gaps and pain points of legacy systems. Reliance on highly manual processes has necessitated some staff who were under stay-at-home restrictions to return to their offices. Data needed for flexible financial and budget planning around uncertain variables became less reliable and more difficult to find. Often, modifying existing system functionality to accommodate remote instruction, emptying of dorms, and compliance changes during the crisis has required heroic actions, late nights, and significant changes to legacy platforms.

For those institutions desiring a move to a modern cloud solution, the long-term goal remains, and it eventually will need to be addressed. Financial constraints may prohibit moving forward with the selection and procurement of a SaaS solution in the near term, but planning and preparing for the move to a cloud administrative application can and should continue.

Institutions can work to reduce the difficulty, risk, and expense of an eventual move to the cloud without the scale of expenditures that the actual implementation will require.

While it may not be possible to begin an administrative systems replacement project immediately, institutions need to understand the steps involved in planning and executing this critical initiative. Tambellini has published a guide to assist in the planning journey, no matter where in the process institutions find themselves. This guide, available to all Tambellini members, provides details of the steps, including activities, participants, rough timelines, and more.

While the steps in the guide are essential for institutions’ administrative systems transitions, many of the activities will provide short-term benefits, at relatively low cost, for institutions that are not yet ready for a full replacement. Also, for those institutions that have paused their selection efforts, continuing with the steps can send a message to stakeholders that the project will continue when the time is right. Most importantly, knowing that the current platforms are likely not viable over the coming five to ten years, planning for the eventual move to cloud administrative systems is critical to IT strategic planning for all institutions. Tambellini urges institutions to begin these activities sooner rather than later because legacy administrative systems will become unsupported or no longer viable.

Administrative Systems Planning Checklist


  • Business Case
  • Leadership Commitment
  • Funding
  • Project Governance
  • Business Imperatives
  • High-Level Demos
  • Data Management Strategies Systems, Reports, and Integrations Inventory
  • Identity and Access Management


  • Requirements and Gaps
  • Market Scan
  • Project Budget and Timeline


  • Software RFI/RFP, Decision, and Contract
  • Partner RFI/RFP Decision and Support
  • Deploy
  • Post-Production Support

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Principal Analyst
Dave Kieffer spearheads research focused on finance, and HCM applications, data management and other critical higher education technologies at Tambellini Group. He brings more than 30 years of creating, implementing, and managing enterprise-class applications in higher education. His experience includes all levels of applications development and management in higher education. Among other things, he has been responsible for ERP implementations, mobile, and web development, application architecture and integration technologies.

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